I've never been one for games that force you to be creative. Minecraft, and the thousands of "build shit" games it's birthed, I've always found more tedious than freeing. I think most of that comes with the age where I approached them; from teen to adulthood, my sense of imagination has dashed with age. Super Mario Maker, for me at least, has been the big exception though.
The Wii U darling was my favorite game of 2015, in fact. (Excuse me, I came to The Witcher 3 about a year late.) I got into not just scavenging online forums and threads to discover meticulously designed levels, but I fell in love with actually making levels too. I built short ones that required my favorite spin jump of Super Mario World to get across a bed of spiky-shelled foes. I made high concept ones, like emulating sequences of the anime Revolutionary Girl Utena, made possible thanks to Mario skins like Mario Kart and Palutena. I got really into Super Mario Maker, more than any other build-a-thon before it.
Super Mario Maker 2 has already tickled the same itch as the first game. I made my first level, called "Mario & The UFO Catcher Factory," over the weekend. But there's something else about it that I'm loving even more: how it holds your hand.
The problem that I usually have with a lot of games that want you to build things is that they aren't great at two things: inspiring you and teaching you. This year's Dreams, from Media Molecule, has maybe the best example of the latter. Its tutorials are all narrated, have many steps, and best of all, ask you to follow along in action. You can easily pause, rewind, or skip forward if you feel confident. While I still find Dreams overwhelming to this day, at least its tutorials gave me the confidence I needed to at least experiment with its many creation tools.
Super Mario Maker 2 is great at both tasks. Thanks to its Story Mode and tutorials in Yamamura's Dojo, Super Mario Maker 2 is less intimidating from the get-go than its Wii U predecessor. As Mike wrote in his write-up, the Story Mode is really just clever framework to teach you about all the many features in the level builder. But I've found it's been the best for another reason: giving me inspiration.
I got the idea for my crane factory level through playing an early Story Mode level, where its swinging claws reminded me immediately of UFO catcher games you find in Japanese arcades. So I thought, why not make a level about that? The same inspiration hit me during a harder level offered to me by the strange eraser dog character in Story Mode, wherein you use a Dry Bones' shell as a makeshift raft to sail across a poisonous flood. My next level, I've decided, will be all about sailing on this strange raft.
The pigeon-narrated Dojo, by contrast, isn't so much built to give you inspiration, but to teach you how best to use all of Super Mario Maker 2's tools. And better yet, it gives handy advice for not just making Mario levels, but for good overall level design too. "Cheap shots and surprise attacks are almost never fun," one Dojo lesson bids, showing an example of a Thwomp crashing down onto Mario despite being offscreen in a lesson about learning to respect your players. "Cheap shots don't make players feel good."
Another suggests sharing your levels with friends and family so they can spot the blindspots you maybe miss in making levels, teaching players that criticism is almost always a helpful asset. Each of the 45 lessons offer not just Mario-related advice, but educates you on the aspects of game design that you might otherwise not think about too. I sifted through the lessons expecting to just learn about the newer tools of Super Mario Maker 2, but found myself tapping on lessons like "Seriously, Treat the Player Fairly" and "Forgiving Player Mistakes."
It's helpful, not just to discourage cheap-feeling difficulty in players' Mario levels, but to encourage players to think beyond the likes of those boring auto-run levels or the unfair and not satisfying side of Kaizo levels. In the heyday of Super Mario Maker on the Wii U, those types of levels were unfortunately the most popular, but already in Super Mario Maker 2 I'm seeing less of those, and more clever designed levels in their place. Some makers are even creating intricate puzzle levels, which is cool to see in the context of a Mario game at all.
While I loved building levels in the original Mario Maker because of how naturally ideas came to me, Super Mario Maker 2 is offering the tools and guidance to inspire many others, without the self-taught patience I had, to take on the challenge. And dare I say it, make thoughtful level designers of us all. I know it's already affecting how I make levels, and I can't wait to see what other more talented budding designers come up with next.
Major Game Releases: July 1 to July 5
Here are the major releases for the week of June 17 to June 21. Want to see the complete list? Check out our full list of video game release dates for 2019.
- Final Fantasy 14: Shadowbringers [July 2, PS4, PC]: If you preordered Shadowbringers, then you're probably already in, but Tuesday is the official launch for Final Fantasy 14's next expansion. It's bringing in huge changes to jobs, combat, and quests, as well as the long-anticipated Viera and Hrothgar races. Bunny women and cat men, what more could you want?
- Stranger Things 3: The Game [July 4, PS4, Xbox One, Switch, PC]: Season three of Stranger Things drops later this week on Netflix, and so does its video game adaptation. It's a co-op action-adventure game with 12 playable characters; some of whom remain a mystery. We played a demo of it awhile back, but don't worry, it didn't contain any spoilers for the new season.
- What Remains of Edith Finch [July 4, Switch]: What Remains of Edith Finch, one of our favorite games of 2017, is coming to Switch later this week. It's a must-play, in this humble writer's opinion. (I should know, I reviewed it way back when!)
- Sea of Solitude [July 5, PS4, Xbox One, PC]: Sea of Solitude is the latest in EA's Originals program, developed by the small studio Jo-Mei Games and to be published by EA. It's an adventure game where you play as Kay, a girl trying to save her loved ones from the loneliness that she herself is afflicted with. Of course, that loneliness manifests in scary monsters. You can expect a review from us of it later this week.
This Week's News and Notes
- Final Fantasy 14's Shadowbringers expansion is large and in charge, but changes to the game's healers are causing players to abandon the important class.
- Is a new Alan Wake game possible? It might be. Either way, if you haven't listened to "The Poet and the Muse" in a while, you should.
- It's true: You can't throw items into lava and use them as jumping pads anymore in Super Mario Maker 2. Because of that and more, hardcore Super Mario Maker 2 players aren't as pleased as we are with the game thanks to the occasional odd mechanical and interaction inconsistency.
- The latest photos from Netflix's The Witcher series have us feeling a little more hopeful about the project not being a potential garbage fire.
- Will the upcoming Final Fantasy 14 series likewise wind up looking OK? As long as there are Chocobos, I imagine all imperfections will be forgiven.
- Pokemon producer Junichi Masuda addressed the Pokemon Sword and Shield Pokedex controversy again, and surprise, people are still mad about the Galar Region not having a complete 'Dex. They'll get over it. Someday.
- We already miss Matt, who left us last week to go hang out with IGN. He left a beautiful child behind: An excellent Panzer Dragoon interview.
- Axe of the Blood God: Kat continues to play Final Fantasy 7, where she enjoyed(?) an intense meeting with Barret's estranged friend, Dyne. Then she and Nadia talk about Bloodstained and the oft-overlooked roguelike card game, Slay the Spire. There's also some talk about TurboGrafx-16 games, since we missed a few in last week's RPG Console Quest. We're sorry. We'll never make a mistake again. [Listen here!]